Singapore’s retail scene in dire need of reform to curb plateauing tourist spending

The 2.2-kilometre Orchard Road shopping precinct is in need of rejuvenation

Amid discussions of Orchard Road’s rejuvenation pipeline, Singapore’s retail players have expressed the need to reform local shopping offerings by providing a more “experiential” concept, in order to stimulate tourist expenditure.

The country has seen plateauing tourist spend over recent years, largely due to the rise of e-commerce. There is a glimmer of hope however, as tourism receipts broke the stagnation with a slight one per cent increase to S$27.1 billion (US$20 billion) last year.

The 2.2-kilometre Orchard Road shopping precinct is in need of rejuvenation

Higher tourist spending was registered for sightseeing, entertainment and gaming, as well as other tourism revenue components comprising airfares captured by local-based carriers.

However, expenditure on shopping, accommodation and F&B continued to decline, with 2018 seeing a 14 per cent dip to S$4.1 billion.

Concerned panellists at the SG Tourism Leaders Forum last week – comprising the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) and Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) – asserted that local retail experience has become outdated, and needs to be rejuvenated and enhanced.

Steven Goh, executive director, ORBA, revealed that a sizeable 30 to 40 per cent of sales along Orchard Road come from tourists, but the shopping belt has become “dated and old”, with too much road traffic and a lack of variation along the 2.8km stretch.

He said: “The government’s announcement to revamp Orchard Road is a step in the right direction, but Orchard Road is no longer the only shopping destination of choice. It should not just be about how to improve shopping, but how to make Orchard Road a liveable shopping street. There are not enough pedestrian crossings, and no priority is given to people over cars.

“My wish for it is to be a combination of different shopping experiences; for example, a combination of Tokyo’s Ginza Street, Omotesando and Shibuya. We need a lot of stakeholders, developers and government agencies to continue to work on this.”

The annual Great Singapore Sale (GSS) can no longer rely on its 25-year-old legacy and is due for a refresh, added Rose Tong, executive director of SRA, the organiser of GSS.

She lamented: “(GSS has run for) so long that it has become nothing more than sales and discounts. It’s actually one of the top five shopping festivals in the world, and it would be such a waste to let this 25-year heritage event die like that.”

Tong shared that SRA is currently “in discussions for a collaborative cross-marketing effort for the revamp of GSS”, and has already obtained “the support of the Restaurants Association of Singapore, ORBA, the Textile and Fashion Federation and Kampong Glam”.

Kampong Glam’s involvement will help expand the scope of GSS beyond Orchard Road and its sales and discounts. This is also a way for visitors “to really experience the different cultural facets of Singapore and colourful street murals that not even Singaporeans have noticed”, said Tong.

She said: “At the end of the day, GSS is all about selling Singapore and its experiences. We want to push more home-grown Singaporean designs and products, which will be an emphasis for us at this year’s GSS.”

GSS will also be halved from the usual 10 weeks to five weeks this year, and run from June 21 to July 28.

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